A prompt and thorough investigation of a fire scene is critical to any litigation arising therefrom. Documenting the investigation plays an indispensable role to the defense of any fire case. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes guidelines to be followed in fire investigations to ensure effective documentation of a fire scene and to assist in determining its cause and origin. The most recent edition, NFPA 921 - Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, can be used as an offensive weapon and defensive shield in all aspects of fire litigation. Some of the guidelines espoused are detailed as follows:
It is imperative that when sending a fire investigator to investigate a fire scene, he or she is equipped with the tools and knowledge to ensure that the investigation enhances your case. For example, photographs can be the most effective demonstrative evidence a jury may see in a fire case. The investigator must know that one of the most important aspects of photographing a fire scene is available light. The most powerful light source is of course the sun. However, the sun is not always available when the fire scene must be investigated. Burned areas have poor reflective properties and as such, a knowledgeable fire investigator should come equipped with flash devices on cameras or floodlights to artificially illuminate the area. Floodlights will need a power source to operate and the investigator must come prepared.
Not only is it imperative that your investigator understand and follow 921, but it is equally true that you, as the attorney, understand it as well. The initial investigation may make or break your case. Absent an understanding of how that investigation should be conducted, you will not truly understand your case.
To learn more about NFPA 921 and other valuable tips for investigating fire and explosion scenes to be used as a weapon or defense in your case, attend the Fire & Casualty SLG’s meeting at the DRI Products Liability conference at the Venetian Pallazzo Hotel in Las Vegas (April 11-13). If you have any particular questions about this topic, please feel free to post.